Journalism was once thought to be a dying field, but in actuality, it’s the way we consume news that has changed. Whether we access news from our Twitter feeds, our mobile devices or our smart TVs, stories will always be available in some shape or form.
But in an ever-connected world, journalists have struggled to keep eyes on the page (and on the screen.) Many readers are now only willing to scan the first few sentences before something diverts their attention elsewhere. Cue the shift – the meteoric shift – of many news services to ditch the traditional news layout and add flashy photos, GIFs and videos.
This has been tried-and-true formula of BuzzFeed. Whether the story is focused on the outbreak of Ebola, or the best Weird Al moments of 2014, the layout stays fairly static – large photos with short descriptors in a list format. The method has proved to work quite well – they have a monthly audience of 150 million and counting – and that’s why so many PR professionals strive to get their clients featured on Buzzfeed.
Placing a story on BuzzFeed is easier said than done. Sure, the story you pitched sounds funny to you, but will millions of BuzzFeed readers share it on Facebook? If you’ve yet to get a response, I’m guessing the answer is no. BuzzFeed is a tough cookie to crack, so when your client is looking for consumer-facing publications, suggest BuzzFeed Community.
BuzzFeed Community is an offshoot of the main site that allows for placement of user-curated content. Whether you’re a brand, a CEO or just someone who unearthed a trend in Ryan Gosling’s Instagram posts, the floor is yours.
BuzzFeed offers guidelines for Community posts and explains how to generate viewership. Posts are fairly easy to construct with a user-friendly CMS (note that each photo and blurb needs to be posted to your story separately). BuzzFeed has an analytics feature for each post, showing whether users are accessing the story from social sites, email or organically. Community posts are often aggregated to the BuzzFeed homepage if your content is worthwhile.
Last night, I had the privilege of attending a great Andreessen Horowitz event featuring Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for one of my favorite television shows – Scandal. If you’re in PR, the show’s lead character, Olivia Pope, likely tops your list of superheroes.
As introduced by Ben Horowitz, Judy is the “world’s greatest crisis manager. If you’re ever in trouble, Judy is the person to call.” Judy’s firm has advised such notable people as Monica Lewinsky, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, and Sony Pictures Entertainment after their 2014 cyber attack.
Based on the conversation, I can certainly say that Judy is every bit as wise and confident as Kerry Washington’s character, if not more. And for all you fans of the show, the real life Harrison was also in the audience.
Here are a few of my key takeaways from Judy’s Q&A with Ben:
Crisis management is a developed skill: Calm, cool and collected isn’t just a talking point. Your client needs to feel this from you from the first moment they talk to you. Also be prepared to not only defend your strategy, but have 4-5 examples of people or companies that chose an alternative route and what happened.
There is an opportunity that comes from crisis: Judy shared a story about how she and her childhood friend got into many scuffles trying to play peacemaker on the playground (crisis management starts when you’re young folks!). In this case, her opportunity was signing up for karate lessons and earning her black belt – there’s always a silver lining even if it isn’t clear at the time the crisis hits.
Your strength often ends up being the thing that gets you in to trouble: If you have a client where this is the case try pointing out the things that led them to this point. They need to recognize the weakness in the strength so they can watch for it moving forward.
Only take on clients you can help: As Judy said, some things just aren’t fixable, and when that’s the case it’s in everyone’s best interest to pass on working together. When asked about clients that don’t share the whole truth, Judy also noted, “you can’t help people if they don’t tell the truth. You can’t plan a winning strategy if you don’t have the facts. When you first meet a client facts can be ‘evolving.’ A lot of time crisis work is like a chess game, you want to anticipate moves.” By telling the truth, you can frame the narrative vs. reacting to it.
Be authentic: “When you screw up you have to own that. Be authentic. People can smell the BS. You have to really mean it.” Judy mentioned she doesn’t like to script or write statements; she asks the client “what would you want to say?” That’s where you start.
Trust your gut: A consistent theme on Scandal is Olivia trusting her gut. For example, Judy said she likes to understand, from either an individual or a corporation, what will be the outcome of her help. Will the client make changes so they don’t go down a repeat path? She joked that while repeat business is good for the bottom line, you want to know that your help is resulting in a change for the better. Your gut will guide you to this answer.
Social media has changed crisis management: According to Judy, “Social media has given the individual so much power. We used to say get out in front of it. Now you have to catch up with it, and insert your position. Stories move with lightening speed. Make sure you assess how you want to respond and what you want to say and when. Otherwise, you are left behind.”
One of my favorite stories of the night had to do with the topic of loyalty. Judy worked for President Bush on his re-election campaign. When all signs pointed towards a loss, other members of the team immediately began looking for other jobs. Judy commented that when she commits, she gives 120 percent and then some, and never took her eye off the ball or thought about what’s next. Out of his respect for her loyalty, the President spoke highly of Judy to several of his contacts in the business sector. In less than a week, Judy received calls from seven Fortune 100 CEOs, each offering her a position at their company. I really connected with this story, as loyalty is a quality I highly admire in our own team.
On a personal note, it was great to say hello to Ben and the Andreessen Horowitz team. I started my PR career working on Opsware and it was so much fun to be at an event featuring the best in the PR biz hosted by one of my first clients. One of the night’s best audience reactions came from a question to Ben about who he would want to play him on TV. In true Ben fashion, the response…Drake!
As we begin a new year, it is always a time for reflection. We begin to think about the past year – successes, disappointments, and changes we’d like to make moving forward to the next. While many are planning to kick that bad habit, lose those extra five pounds, or start a new hobby, I’d like to focus on some resolutions for those of us who work in Public Relations.
Refresh Your Email Habits
Email is the heart and soul of modern business communication and many professionals, especially PR folks, are guilty of overusing it. Moving into 2015, we need to tame the beast and modify how we use email. For example, if more than three emails have been traded on a topic, pick up the phone and call. Being able to bounce ideas off of one another instantaneously can help you reach a conclusion quicker, saving time and frustration. In the instances where email is the best means of communication, keep it short. Implementing bullets is a good way to keep a note digestible. The shorter and more succinct you can be, the better – journalists and clients will thank you.
Write First, Edit Later
People in PR are often asked, “So… what exactly do you do?” All of us have a different way of answering, but the one constant descriptor is, “we write a lot.” From day one, writing is something PR folks should be actively working on. However, our busy schedules often get the best of us and we normally end up quickly churning something out so we can check it off our to-do list.In this process, we lose the chance to thoroughly revise our writing. 2015 should be the year of the “write first, edit later” strategy. Stepping away from a project for even a few minutes can help you catch mistakes or find a better way to phrase a tough sentence. Not only will this increase your confidence in your work, but also will spare your managers and clients editing time.
Remember Reporters are People too
In PR, it’s easy to feel like reporters are the Big Bad Wolf and you’re a wee Little PR Piggy. But in reality, those reporters are the exception. Reporters are just like you and me – busy, tired, and receiving too many emails. In 2015, use this knowledge to your advantage. In communications with reporters, keep it casual, friendly, concise and, most importantly, keep it interesting. Some reporters claim to receive upwards of a few hundred pitches a day. Using a ‘sexy’ or unique subject line is a great way grab their attention. If you had a hundred emails in your inbox, would that subject line entice you to open it?
Find a Balance
It’s no secret that the world of media operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As PR goes hand-in-hand with media, it’s easy for us to fall into a similar pattern, and smart phones are our enablers. When that familiar notification sound goes off, it’s easy to quickly read and respond to an email. However, this strains the balance between work and home, which is crucial for both your professional and personal success. 2015 is your chance to break the habit. Resist the urge to continuously check your email when you get home or on weekends. Let your colleagues and clients know if they need to reach you after hours they can call, or that you will check email at a specified time each night. Giving yourself some downtime will help you be a better friend, spouse, and employee.
On a final note, PR is known for being a thankless job. Remember to thank your colleagues and clients for all they do, and most importantly, remember to thank yourself! Cheers to 2015!
All right stop, Collaborate and listen” – Vanilla Ice
In the magical world of public relations, one of the many (or few, depending on what day you’re asking) perks of the job is storytelling, being able to craft a rich narrative to help tell the stories of our clients. But sometimes, finding these stories requires some Sherlock-style investigating (the BBC version, not the Robert Downey Jr. version). While product announcements, press tours, and funding news can help drive media awareness, most companies have untapped resources that have been too long overlooked—content published from a client’s internal team.
A growing number of companies have designated their blogs as a place for employees to share personal experiences and write on timely topics in which they’re passionate. Corporate blogging is nothing new and is still one of the best ways for a company to promote its culture and showcase its personality. But it’s also a great avenue for employees to contribute to the company’s content base, and this is where magic can truly happen.
Now the caveat: While we as PR peeps love to see companies blog and showcase their opinions, we often find ourselves reading these amazing ideas AFTER they’ve already been published and shared with the general public. So we’re kind of feeling that weird mix of jubilation and regret. You know, the one you get after eating an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting.
The byproduct of this feeling is a new term we’ve coined: ‘PR Pause,’ which we feel best describes our recommended approach with these hidden content gold mines. So what exactly is ‘PR Pause?’ It’s pretty simple actually. It’s just us asking clients to ‘hold that thought’ before they publish valuable content on their website. Not stop doing it. Just holding it.
While there are many aspects to PR, content marketing is a strategy many are still working to leverage and improve. And some companies don’t yet realize how valuable their personal insight can really be, and that many of their ideas and blog content can be stretched to a wider audience, driving more external awareness.
In PR, we spend a great deal of time strategizing new and unique ways to position our clients as industry experts. Often times, the solution is right in front of our face… under the “blog” dropdown menu on a company’s website. By taking these ideas and crafting them for a broader audience – which requires the always-uncomfortable conversation of asking clients to strip out any self-promotional content – and making the material more vendor-neutral, these ‘gold mines’ can drive much more awareness than a standard corporate blog post.
By taking pause and thinking through the best channel to distribute internal corporate thinking, the company – and selfishly, PR people too – can reach a whole new level of audience.
Working in public relations is not for the faint of heart. Choosing this career is like choosing to re-live your first day at a new school over and over- comfort from hints of familiarity mixed with anxiety over the unknown, the stress of curveballs here and there, and nonstop activity.
Every day is different; constantly fielding new tasks, attempting to charm strangers, and organizing and re-ordering never-ending to-do lists. While this schedule keeps things interesting, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t wear on you after a while. Those of us in PR chose this career path because we are go getters, scrappy, and hard as nails. We stick around because of the agency support system surrounding us. Don’t be mistaken though, this inter-company “lean on me” mentality didn’t build itself.
A strong focus on the improvement and growth of company culture through office wide non-work related activities is crucial in the upkeep of overall happiness, commitment to performance, and employee retention. Studies found that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their companies than their disengaged counterparts. Never arranging opportunities for team members and co-workers to spend stress-free time together can be a disservice to even the toughest of PR pros.
Every few months, Barokas plans a number of events for its employees. From a scavenger hunt that took over Pioneer Square, to harvesting squash for United Way, to an annual taco-filled beer pong tournament, to organizing a friendly office vs. office competition to see who can collect the most food for Thanksgiving, our events promote camaraderie and help us build relationships with one another outside of our to-do lists. And last month was no exception; BPR chose between Team Peeta and Team Gail at the premiere of The Hunger Games!
With office worries eliminated, these opportunities allow employees to get to know each other as they are “in real life,” garnering a greater understanding and tolerance of different work and communication styles. Additionally, this time spent together fosters a level of trust and openness that allows for the kind of shameless brainstorm sessions where history is made.
So many companies these days casually claim to have the “work hard, play hard” policy. With a fierce dedication to our clients, an average speed of a million miles per minute, and enjoying a few laughs (and beers) along the way, we like to think we live by it.
(For those of you who are not fourteen and/or obsessed with #TeamPeeta, #TeamGale, #TeamKatniss, #TeamButtercup (Prim’s cat), etc., etc., this means only one thing. And that is…GAME. ON.)
When the time came to plan BPR’s Thanksgiving food drive, I, enveloped in warmth, drinking a scrumptious extra-hot soy chai latte out of a Starbucks cheerfully red, snowflake-bespeckled, biodegradable “It’s the HOLIDAYS!” cup, thought of only one thing: a dystopian future characterized by children being forced to battle each other to the death in a cruel, merciless, transformative environment rife with treacheries exceeding that of a pay-per-view cage fight or the gladiatorial brutalities worthy of Caesar himself, also known as The Hunger Games. If I’ve lost you, please ask an eight year old for clarity – seriously, ask any eight year old.
As the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was imminent, my fellow volunteer coordinators agreed that a fun and festive death match would be a fantastic way for BPR to give back to the community. In Seattle, we selected Northwest Harvest, Washington’s own hunger relief agency dedicated to providing nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, and the Union Gospel Mission, a group that bestows emergency care and long-term recovery services to hurting, hungry and homeless people in the greater Seattle area. In Denver, BPR selected Food Bank of the Rockies, which distributes 121,000 meals each day through more than 800 hunger relief partner agencies throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Come mid-November, the stage was set and the BPR house divided. In Seattle, the Northside was pinned against the neighboring Southside, both fighting against each other, as well as “Team Denver.” Whichever team could accumulate the most turkeys and non-perishable items would win, save their district, and I assured them, not die. How could a death match between the Northside, Southside, and Denver not be both festive and fun?! My thoughts exactly.
Admittedly, we started slow. However, after a few friendly email reminders (which will remain confidential), we started bringing in food. Lots and lots of food…all accounted for and logged via a point system in a convenient Google doc. In case it escaped you, we work in public relations.
When BPR’s Inaugural Thanksgiving Hunger Games ended on November 25, between Seattle and Denver, we had amassed ten turkeys, one tofurky, and 857 non-perishable items like diapers, infant formula, soup, pasta, and canned goods to donate to our respective communities! We made it, no one died (well turkeys, but that’s for another blog post), and Barokas PR made a substantial gesture of thanks to our friends and neighbors.
The winning team, one might inquire? In reality, we are ALL winners. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a completely unbiased shout-out to the very hard working, canned goods-carrying, Costco tripping teammates of Seattle BPR’s SOUTHSIDE!! I salute you.
As anyone on Facebook can attest, their feed has been filled with posts from family and friends giving thanks over the last month. These posts generally cover the same few topics – family, friends, pets, good health, and on and on. While I am thankful for all of those things, there are also a few things I am specifically thankful for as a PR pro – some of which are likely only understood by others in the industry.
Here we go:
1. Scandal – PR often ranks at the top of the list for most stressful jobs. Watching this TV show makes me thankful I am not as stressed out as Olivia Pope (well, at least not most of the time)!
2. Coffee. Repeat.
3. Online media databases – I am unfortunately dating myself, but remember the days of looking up contact info and reporter beats in paperback books? Thankful that we can now say “no thanks” to that labor-intensive time suck.
4. Variety – If you’re in PR, your first thought was probably of the popular entertainment magazine, but that’s not what I’m referencing here. Working at an agency gives you the opportunity to learn about and work in multiple industries. I can’t think of too many other jobs where you have the opportunity to learn (quickly!) each and every day.
5. Reporters that respond to your pitches, even if it’s a no.
6. One degree of separation – if you’re a Kevin Bacon fan, you might think there are six degrees of separation between you and your favorite 80’s actor. In PR, especially in tech PR, it’s more like one degree separating you and someone you want to connect with.
7. Clients that shun the client/vendor mentality and form a true partnership – you are my favorite!
8. An executive left to spend more time with his/her family? Yeh, right. I’m thankful that PR has taught me to read between the lines and not accept things at face value.
9. One of the best parts of PR is getting to help organizations you care are about on a pro bono basis. I’m thankful BPR had the opportunity to support several organizations over the last year including the Awesome Foundation Boulder and Animals Vote.
10. And last, but not least, PR has provided me the opportunity to meet and engage with people who inspire me, both in my personal and professional life. I am thankful to say the list is too long to detail in this blog post, but ranges from a NASA astronaut to two of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jason Mraz and Dave Matthews.
On a personal note, this post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledgement of Jack Bulldog, my furbaby, best friend and Barokas PR mascot. While we had to say goodbye to Jack earlier this year, I am thankful for the love and happiness he brought to the lives of those that knew him each and every day. XOXO.
With $10,000 on the line would you be able to sell one of your talents, an idea or product to a panel of seasoned venture capitalists and angel investors? Could you do it in five minutes? How about 60 seconds? On November 18, that is exactly what 12 Pacific Northwest startup entrepreneurs did at the Washington Technology Industry Association’s (WTIA) First Look Forum in Bellingham. The startups were incredibly diverse in the industries they represented and their previous business experience (think interior design to human cell preservation, and college graduate to CTO level of diversity).
Although there was a packed room full of talent, these four pitches were my favorite:
PurpleWall – an online platform enabling residents to have their dream room remotely decorated by an interior designer who complements their style and budget.
If only I knew this existed when moving into my apartment. Let’s just say I could have saved a few days (okay weeks) perusing miles of IKEA.
React Mobile – transforms the way people call for help in an emergency, and lets your family and friends follow your whereabouts.
My favorite thing about this app is the peace of mind it gives not only the user but also their selected contacts – I can definitely see it being a parent pleaser.
SpeechAce – an app that teaches correct American English pronunciation and eliminates accents one word at a time.
An Italian version of this would have saved me from multiple strange gelato orders (I bet you didn’t know the words “peach” and “fish” differ but just one letter).
VanAir Design – developed an enhanced interior door that allows air to flow through it while shut, and maintains visual and acoustical privacy in an aesthetic manner.
Realizing less than half of my room’s air is circulated at night caught my attention immediately, and now a door that circulates air while closed is no longer an oxymoron with this design.
The entrepreneurs that delivered these presentations all had something in common: they were quick but compelling, informative but to the point, and most of all they got the audience’s attention and engaged them. Could you sell your product or service in 60 seconds?
As a firm, our primary focus is serving tech companies of every shape and size, but we occasionally represent groups that fall outside that category. Recently we were given the opportunity to work with an awesome group, with an awesome mission, doing some awesome things for their community.
I am not usually one to use the word “awesome” so liberally, but anything less would be selling Awesome Boulder short. For a group who freely donates $1000 to better the Boulder, CO area, we were happy to help drive publicity.
Awesome Boulder is made up of ten trustees who work and/or live in the Boulder area, with the common goal to make the community a better place to live. Each month they generously grant $1000 to fund a project that educates, stimulates or educates members of the community.
Projects have included an arts event during Boulder Startup Week, Food for Thought Inc., which provides support for educators to integrate STEM education tools. Most recently, they funded Paint Boulder with Tape, which was intended to get residents to think critically about art in general.
Awesome Boulder is a unique way for an organization to give back to the community. As part of the Awesome Foundation, Awesome Boulder and the other 102 chapters around the world have funded 1,221 projects to date. That’s $1,221,000 given directly to local community projects. More organizations like Awesome Boulder deserve great publicity, and it has been a rewarding opportunity to work with them and flex our PR muscles on a client that falls outside our wheelhouse.
Awesome encourages awesome. An idea and mission as great as Awesome Boulder’s deserves an equally great PR team and campaign, but the same is true for all of our clients. Some can be more challenging to articulate than others, but finding the awesome makes telling the story easier. Whether it is to the New York Times or SD Times, it is easy to get behind the goals and bring our A game on the PR front. And yes, A stands for Awesome.
At Barokas PR, we have a culture of entrepreneurship. We take risks together. We help our clients convert uncertainty into opportunity. There’s a connection between the clients we serve and the stories we help them tell. These similarities are especially evident with our startup clients. Startups and PR are about creating something special and seeing what happens out of the unknown. Taking risks.
Fresh from attending the Techstars Seattle Demo Day 2014, we are reminded of what it means to take a risk. Ten companies graced the Techstars stage to pitch their products designed to address challenges we all encounter far too often, ranging from parenting to business productivity.
Some of my favorite pitches were from companies focused on curated content, including Magicflix, who created a curated video service for kids with safe and age-appropriate digital content, and Garmentory, which designed a curated fashion marketplace. On the B2B side, I was impressed by MightySignal, a team of engineers who created the technology needed to help sales and marketing professionals fix the lead generation model, and LiveStories, which helps non-technical people and overall visual heads understand data analysis through visualizations.
All of them are fulfilling different market gaps, yet the underlying symmetry is that all of them are taking risks. And even though the stakes were high, the room had a strong sense of community overflowing amongst all of these startups, investors and general attendees in the audience.
The key here is community. This is what makes the Seattle startup community differentiated and keeps it growing. Darrell Cavens, CEO, Zulilly, said it best during his keynote,“Seattle has a strong culture of building great businesses because of the committed and supportive people in this city.” Community combined with innovative thinking made the Techstars Seattle Demo Day a success.
Further, the event personally reignited my passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM education). It reminded me as to why I love doing tech PR and why I love helping startups earn their first ever media placements. I have a passion for math and science, and started my college life in computer science. Hence, there was something special about seeing these 10 Techstars’ love for problem solving, creativity and smarts in STEM.